Planning a Trip to Disney World on a Budget: Top Tips + Costs

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Yes, planning a trip to Disney World on a budget is possible! It’s never going to be the cheapest trip, but there are many ways you can save money on accommodation, transport, and food.

We’ve been to Disney World in Orlando, Florida three times as adults. The first two times we were on a tight budget and stayed in off-site motels and packed sandwiches. On our latest trip we had more to spend and stayed in Disney World’s cheapest resort hotel and ate in the parks at a mix of fast food and table service restaurants.

They have all been wonderful experiences and below I compare the costs of staying on-site vs off-site, explain step by step how to plan a Disney trip, and give tips on how to save money on every aspect of your stay.

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How Much Does a Trip to Disney World Cost?

Disney Costs Staying Off-Site

The cheapest way to visit Disney World is by staying off-site in a cheap motel. We did this when visiting Disney as a couple in 2011 and 2015.

In 2015 we spent 10 nights in Orlando with six days in the four main Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios) plus three days at the other Disney attractions (water parks and mini-golf).

We tried to be frugal and shopped at supermarkets for breakfast and lunch and ate dinners outside the parks as often as possible.

We spent a total of $2187 for two people which is $109 per person per day.

Here’s how the cost per person per day was broken down:

  • Motel $22
  • Park Tickets $44
  • Food (Groceries and Eating Out) $20
  • Car hire and parking $23

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Disney Costs Staying On-Site in a Disney Value Resort

In November 2018 we stayed on-site in Disney’s cheapest resort, All-Star Music, for six nights including five full days in the main parks. Other than some granola bars we brought with us, we ate all our meals in the Disney parks and also indulged in a couple of alcoholic drinks a day (which we mostly avoided on previous trips).

We spent a total of $2449 for two people which is $204 per person per day, nearly double what we spent staying off-site.

Here’s how the cost per person per day was broken down:

  • Hotel and Tickets $139.50
  • Food $39
  • Alcohol $17
  • Gifts and Souvenirs $9

The cost of the hotel and tickets was a package we booked direct from the Disney website for six nights which included a discount on tickets. Transport is free for resort guests so we didn’t rent a car.

We booked our trip seven weeks in advance and had to pay a $200 deposit initially and the balance one month before.

I go into greater detail about the costs of different aspects of a Disney trip below.

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Choose the Best Time to Visit Disney World

Planning a trip to Disney World on a budget - choosing the best month to visit.

Despite ominous clouds at Hollywood Studios it was still t-shirt weather in late November

Choosing the best time to visit Disney World is an important decision. The best time to visit Disney on a shoestring budget is in the offseason when prices of accommodation, flights and park tickets are lower and the parks are less crowded. January and early February are usually the cheapest times to visit.

If at all possible, avoid school and public holidays. The busiest times are June to August (especially around July 4), Christmas/ New Year, and Thanksgiving. In recent years October has also become a busy month as the weather is ideal, and there are Halloween celebrations and the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, but I would still visit at this time of year.

Spring Break in April is another busy time, but we have visited twice in April just after Easter—it wasn’t too crowded and the weather was hot.

Our last trip was in November, 10 days before Thanksgiving and it was fine, although it was busier on the Saturday before Thanksgiving (our last day). The weather was mostly hot (we could swim in the resort pool) with two surprisingly cool days (I had to buy a sweater in the park!).

I recommend having a rough idea of the time you can visit Disney and then checking this ranking of the best weeks to visit Disney. In 2019 their top picks are the first two weeks of December after Thanksgiving.

You can also check crowd calendar predictions on Undercover Tourist

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How Long to Stay at Disney World

Slinky Dog Dash in the popular new Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios

Slinky Dog Dash in the popular new Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios

Four full days is our minimum for a trip to Disney as it allows us to have a day in each of the main parks. If you are visiting Disney as part of a longer trip around Florida, you could choose just one or two parks to visit, but they all are very different. It’s impossible for us to pick and doing more than one park in a day would be exhausting.

Six or seven full days (7–8 nights) would be even better as it allows you to revisit some of the parks, have a rest day, or visit the two water parks.

On our last trip, we stayed for six nights with five full park days and wished we’d had an extra day for a rest/water park day in the middle.

On our previous trip where we stayed off-site in a cheap motel we had 10 nights—six days in the main parks plus two days in the Disney water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach) and one day at Disney Springs (the shopping/restaurant area that doesn’t require a ticket) and Disney’s Winter Summerland mini-golf. That was a bit much for me, but Simon the Disney fanatic loved it.

You might also want to allow a day or two to visit Universal Studios which is home to the wonderful Wizarding World of Harry Potter (we visited on a previous trip so just focused on Disney the last two times).

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Accommodation: Staying in a Disney Resort Vs Off-Site

Your biggest decision when planning a trip to Disney World on a budget is whether to stay in an on-site Disney resort or cheaper accommodation outside the parks. We’ve done both and had great experiences either way.

Here are our thoughts on the differences.

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Staying in a Disney Resort

  • Accommodation is more expensive (from $136 plus tax a night), but you can save on transport and tickets (if you book a package).
  • Free return bus transport on the Magical Express from Orlando International Airport to your resort.
  • Free shuttle buses between resorts and parks so you don’t need to rent a car or pay for parking.
  • Access to Extra Magic Hours where you can enter parks before other guests or stay later. This is especially useful for new popular rides like Avatar at Animal Kingdom.
  • You can book FastPasses for rides (and skip the queues) 60 days before you arrive (it’s only 30 days in advance for non-resort guests).
  • You can make restaurant reservations 180 days before you check-in plus up to 10 days of your trip (off-site guests don’t get those extra 10 days). This is useful if you want to eat in a popular restaurant like Cinderella’s Royal Table.
  • You receive a magic band that you can use to charge everything to your room. We didn’t need to carry a wallet for our entire stay!
  • Packages purchased in park stores can be delivered to your resort.
Disney All Star Music resort - the cheapest resort to stay at in Disney World

Disney All Star Music resort

If you do decide to stay in a Disney resort, the cheapest options are Disney Value Resorts including the various All Star Resorts and Pop Century. Pop Century is generally considered slightly better, but the cheapest one available when we booked was All Star Music, which has a standard rate of $161 plus tax per night. In low season there are discounted rates.

Our room at All Star Music was similar to the basic motel rooms we usually book off-site with two double beds, an ensuite bathroom, air conditioning, free wifi, TV, and a mini-fridge (but no kettle). There are two pools on-site (with lots of noisy kids!) and we were a fair walk from the restaurant/reception/bus stops.

It took us 20–40 minutes to get from All Star Music to the parks including wait time for the bus which was never more than 15 minutes.

The restaurant is canteen style, and you can pick up snacks and baked goods for a quick breakfast.

Although our room and resort were basic, it worked well for us as we didn’t spend much time in our room and only had time to use the pool once.

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Staying Off-Site

  • Accommodation is cheaper with motels available from $35 plus tax a night.
  • You need a car to get to the parks, so you’ll need to pay for car rental. If you are really on a budget, some motels offer free shuttles to Disney parks but hours will be limited.
  • Parking at Disney parks is expensive at $25 a day.
  • You’ll be closer to inexpensive restaurants and grocery stores.
  • It’s a good option if you want to visit lots of other attractions in Orlando.

We have stayed in cheap motels in Kissimmee just outside the parks twice before. Last time we stayed at Rodeway Inn Maingate which is in the ideal location just a 10 to 15-minute drive from the Disney parks.

The motel rooms are simple, but they are comfortable enough with two double beds, ensuite, and WiFi, and there’s a pool. We paid extra for a deluxe room with a microwave and fridge which is useful for saving money on food. Current rates are around $51 a night plus taxes ($62 total).

Other cheap motels in good locations are:

When you are booking a motel make sure you check the final price as the initial quoted price doesn’t include taxes or service/resort fees.

You can search for more cheap motels near Disney World here

If you can afford it, stay at a Disney resort as we think the advantages are worth it. But if you are on a tight budget, you can save money on food and accommodation by choosing a cheap motel off-site and still have a fantastic time.

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Booking Cheap Flights

The cost of flights to Disney World will depend on where you are coming from and the time of year. The nearest airport to Disney World is Orlando International Airport (MCO) which is served by many budget airlines such as Southwest, JetBlue, and Spirit.

If you are coming from Europe, Norwegian has inexpensive direct flights to Orlando from London, Paris, Oslo and Stockholm. We paid extra to fly Premium with them from London and it was much more spacious and comfortable than economy at about the same rate as other airlines’ economy.

To find the cheapest flights to Orlando search on Kiwi and Skyscanner.

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Booking Car Rental

If you are staying at a Disney Resort you don’t need a car as you get free transport. If you want to do Disney on the cheapest budget possible, then it’s likely you’ll stay in an off-site motel and rent a car.

If you book in advance you can get cheap car rental deals—we’ve paid just £15 ($19) a day before. I usually find the best deals on Rental Cars and Kayak.

If you are from the UK, it’s cheaper to buy a separate car hire excess policy than to pay the high rates to lower your excess direct with the rental company.

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Disney Ticket Costs

Disney World ticket prices

Disney World ticket prices

The cost of Disney park tickets depends on how many days you want to spend in the park. It’s cheapest to buy a ticket that allows you to visit one park per day.

A one day ticket to Disney costs from $109 (+ tax) per day depending on the time of year. The cheapest tickets are in January, February, May, August and September. The highest ticket prices are at Christmas at $129 a day.

Kids under three don’t need a ticket. Kids aged 3–9 only pay a few dollars less than adults.

Prices go down the more days you buy, and after four days it doesn’t cost much more to add an extra day. A four-day ticket costs from $93 per day whereas a seven-day ticket is from $58 a day.

A four-day ticket in February 2019 costs $373.43 (+ tax) and a five-day ticket is $390 (+ tax), so it costs less than $20 to add an extra day, which is well worth considering.

To do a similar trip to ours last November—in November 2019 a five-day ticket for two people would be $878.80 including tax.

Park Hopper Tickets

You can buy a Park Hopper to visit multiple parks in one day, but this costs more and isn’t usually worth it. If you want to visit the water parks, though, the Park Hopper Plus option could be cost-effective.

A five day Park Hopper Plus in February costs $488, which is $98 more than a standard ticket, but you get five entries to the water parks and mini golf. Entrance to water parks is $65, so you’d have to visit at least two to make this worthwhile.

Where to Buy Disney Tickets

It’s best to buy your tickets on the Disney website (or with your accommodation if staying on-site) and create a My Disney Experience account. Once you’ve linked your tickets to your account, you can book your FastPasses (see below).

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Eating at Disney World on a Budget

Our Food Costs at Disney

When we stayed off-site and self-catered or ate in cheap restaurants outside of Disney most of the time, we spent $20 per person per day on food.

When we stayed in a Disney resort and ate all our meals in the parks (except for some granola bars we brought with us), we spent $39 per person per day on food (plus an extra $17 on alcohol).

We splurged on a wine tour around Epcot's World Showcase with tastings in Italy, France and Germany

We splurged on a wine tour around Epcot’s World Showcase with tastings in Italy, France and Germany—$32 for six tastings.

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Self-Catering

Food at Disney World is expensive, so the best way to save money is to bring your own food into the parks (which is allowed). When we stay off-site, we make sure we have a fridge in our room and shop at supermarkets for breakfast and lunch ingredients and take sandwiches and snacks into the parks.

You should also bring your own water bottle—we love the collapsible Vapur bottle—and fill up at the water fountains that are found everywhere.

If you are staying at a Disney resort and don’t have a car, self-catering is more difficult as there are no supermarkets on-site (resort shops have basic items but they aren’t cheap). You could use a grocery delivery service like Garden Grocer or take an Uber to a supermarket, but both these options add to the cost. On our last visit we decided it was easier to eat in the parks.

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Cheap Restaurants Outside of Disney

It’s cheaper to eat dinner outside of the parks, which works well if you take a break in the afternoon then return to the parks after dinner (but you’ll need a car). In the past we used vouchers on Groupon or from our hotel to save on meals and ate at cheap restaurants like Cicis where the all you can eat pizza buffet costs just $7.99.

We also often ate at Earl of Sandwich at Disney Springs where a veggie sandwich costs $6.99. It’s good for your first night as you get the Disney vibe but don’t need a park ticket for the area. You can sometimes find coupons for here especially if you sign up for their newsletter.

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Budget Disney Restaurants

Simon eating a Mickey cupcake at Disney World Magic Kingdom Main Street

It’s worth budgeting for a few treats at Disney like a Mickey cupcake!

Even when we were on a tight budget, we ate a few meals in the Disney parks and allowed the occasional treat as it’s part of the fun.

If you are staying on property, Disney offers Dining Plans—the cheapest Quick Service Dining Plan includes two quick-service meals and two snacks per person per night. For an example 7-night booking I did for February it cost $734.92 extra for two people which is $105 a day (not including tax). This is more than we spent paying our own way and we were able to have three table service meals as well.

The cheapest meals in the parks are at quick service places where you order and pick up your food from a counter. Table service restaurants are a lot more expensive and you also need to tip (18–20% is standard).

Here are some examples of what we spent on food (not including tax):

  • Lighthouse Sandwich at Columbia Harbour House in Magic Kingdom – $10.69
  • Veggie Rice Bowl at Peco Bills in Magic Kingdom – $9.99
  • Tofu Lettuce Wraps at Sci-Fi Dine-In at Hollywood Studios (table service) – $16
  • Plato Vegetariano at San Angel Inn at Epcot (table service) – $19
  • Iced Vanilla Latte – $5.69
  • Mickey pretzel with cheese sauce – $6.59
  • Pint of ale at UK pub in Epcot – $9.75
  • Ice cream cone – $5.49
  • Mickey cupcake – $5.19
  • Large cinnamon bun at Kusafiri in Animal Kingdom – $7.49
  • Apple slices – $2.79
Snack stands are the cheapest places to purchase food in the parks

Snack stands are the cheapest places to purchase food in the parks, but you’ll save by bringing your own.

Peco Bills is a great option if you are on a budget at Disney because they have a free toppings bar, so you could share one main between two people and heap on the extras.

You can view all the Disney restaurant menus on the Disney website or app. You can also order meals on the app for some quick service restaurants which allows you to skip the queues.

The cheapest option at Disney resorts is ordering a pizza to your room or picking it up from the food court—a large cheese pizza cost $15.99 and lasted us two meals.

Simon with a Mickey pretzel at Disney World

Simon with a Mickey pretzel

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Plan Your Days

Once you’ve booked your accommodation and park tickets, it’s time to plan your Disney schedule and decide which day you will visit each park. Being organized will help you avoid queues and save time.

  1. Check the crowd calendar for the time you are visiting to get an idea of which days in which parks are busiest.
  2. If you are a resort guest, choose the days when there are Extra Magic Hours; if not, avoid those days (especially when they are in the morning).
  3. Check the park opening times and note fireworks, show and parade times. You don’t want to visit Magic Kingdom when it closes at 6 pm if you want to see the fireworks.
  4. Using the above information, decide which day you’ll visit each park.
  5. Choose your priority rides in each park—see our post on the best things to do at Disney World for ideas.
  6. Decide if you want to eat at any table service restaurants (probably not if you’re on a tight budget) and make reservations. Some popular restaurants book up as soon as reservations open 180 days in advance.
  7. Book FastPasses – see below for details.
  8. Save your schedule in your calendar—we use Google Calendar and can see our entries on the app on our phone even when offline.
  9. Download the Disney World app. It makes changing FastPass times and checking wait times on the day easier.
Simon at Magic Kingdom castle

If you choose the right day and arrive early you can have parts of the park to yourself!

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Book FastPass+ in Advance

Disney’s FastPass+ system allows you to choose a specific time to go on certain rides and skip the queue. As well as arriving before the official park opening, they are the main way we avoid long queues at Disney.

The easiest way to book is using the My Disney Experience app or website—you can book up to three FastPasses per day 30 days in advance or 60 days in advance for resort guests. FastPasses for popular rides do run out fast, so book as far in advance as you can.

In our post on the best rides at Disney World we suggest which rides to get FastPasses for in each park.

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Summary

I hope you’ve found these tips useful for planning your trip to Disney World on a budget. Whether you stay in a cheap motel off-site or at a value Disney resort, there are plenty of ways to save money and still enjoy a fantastic trip in the most magical place on earth!

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